When Chicago Sky forward Tamera Young dresses for a game, she doesn't think twice about the spiffy high-tops sitting at the bottom of her locker.
She met some girls on Friday, however, who are missing out on playing sports altogether because they can't afford to outfit themselves, or their feet, properly.
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Young helped distribute 300 pairs of new shoes to grade schoolchildren in need at the Chicago Auto Show at McCormick Place. Teaming with Buick, Samaritan's Feet and a couple of girls advocacy groups, Girls in the Game and Polished Pebbles, the Sky made the initiative part of its celebration of National Women and Girls in Sports Day.
Why have a women and girls in sports day?
The same reason major Title IX anniversaries are marked. Victories in the women's sports movement are fun to celebrate, and it's good to be reminded of the work that still needs to be done.
"It's always about the men in sports, so this day is special," said Young, who flew to Chicago for the weekend. She has been spending the off-season as an intern with the Georgia Tech women's basketball coaching staff. "This day gives us the opportunity to show kids what's out there and what women athletes are capable of doing."
Some of the Sky's best work isn't even done on the court.
At the event, the girls not only got new shoes, they also got new socks and had their feet washed by Young and other volunteers. Young also joined the girls for lunch and shared her stories about basketball and the Chicago Sky.
"Last season, we worked with (Samaritan's Feet) and did the same thing with the shoes," Young said. "It feels good to be able to help young kids who really need it. When you see these kids who don't even have the shoes they need, it really makes you think. They aren't playing sports just because they don't have the shoes. If I didn't have the shoes I needed when I was growing up, I probably wouldn't be where I am today. I started playing basketball and all kinds of sports when I was really young, but I always had what I needed to do that."
Now, all these years later, Young, the Sky's defensive stopper, is starting to think about what she'll do when she won't be playing basketball anymore.
She has spent every other off-season of her WNBA career playing overseas in order to supplement her income and work on her game. Staying in the United States and working a regular job has been quite different, but enjoyable.
Young would like to coach someday. Seeing the way the Georgia Tech program worked behind the scenes was invaluable to her.
"I don't think I could ever be totally away from basketball, so coaching is something I've always thought about doing," Young said. "My internship was mostly observing, but just by being around a program every day I got some really great insight about what to expect."
Young also has been working hard on her game. She's spent more time in the weight room than she ever has, and she loves the focus that she can give to improving specific skills. That time isn't always there while playing overseas.
"I'm really working on extending my range," said Young, primarily a driver who averaged about 8 points per game last season. "I'm also getting back to basics, working on my ball-handling and my fundamentals."
Her feet will certainly be well supported while she plays. Thanks to Young and the Sky, 300 girls in the Chicago area can now say the same.
Sky forward Tamera Young's good deed duties weren't over on Friday at the Chicago Auto Show. The day has extended into the weekend and Young will be at Northwestern on Sunday to help conduct a youth basketball clinic for boys and girls ages 7 through 17.
There will be two sessions of the clinic, with the first session involving kids fifth grade and younger. That will run from 11:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. The second session runs from 12:45 p.m. to 2 p.m. and involves kids in sixth grade and older.
Registration is $25 and includes admission to the clinic, a Sky gift, lunch, one ticket to the Sky's 2013 Opening Night game and one ticket to the Northwestern-Ohio State 3 p.m. women's game that will follow the clinic.
The Sky will host a similar clinic at Lewis University in Romeoville on Feb. 16 from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Participants will get a ticket to a Sky game as well as a ticket to the Lewis game that begins that day at 5 p.m.
For more information on either clinic, contact Sky youth basketball specialist Dominique King at (312) 994-5987 or via email at email@example.com.
• Patricia Babcock McGraw also is a color commentator for the Chicago Sky.